8. KIGALI CHURCH & MEMORIAL
On Sunday we left Kigali and began a four-day tour of the country. We'd hired an SUV and driver to take us wherever we wanted to go. Kevin's friend Oliver was coming with us too and he was a godsend as translator and tour guide - knowing so much about the country as he does.
The first place we went to, after loading our luggage, soccer balls and school supplies into the van, was to the Kigali Library to buy books for the road.
Then, on or way out of town, we went to two "must see" destinations - St Famille Church and the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
To me, one of the most sacred landmarks of the genocide in Rwanda is the St Famille Church. It is seen or discussed in most Rwanda movies and books. I passed it all the time going back and forth to the heart of downtown. It's on the edge of a major roundabout down the hill from Hotel Rwanda and some other key landmarks - like the place where the Belgian soldiers died defending the lady Prime Minister who was shot dead on the first day of the genocide, along with most other leaders of the political opposition.
St Famille Church is where thousands of terrified Tutsis and sympathetic Hutus ran in hopes of cover and protection from the rampaging killers who were using lists to man roadblocks and go door to door instantly slaughtering identified Tutsis.
However, the priest who was in charge of St Famille was on a friendship basis with some of the masterminds of the genocide and he regularly handed Tutsis over to the killers to be slaughtered in the yard or taken away and never seen again. He's presently living in France but he's on the Rwanda government's "Most Wanted List" as a key culprit in the genocide.
I had gone to St Famille Church the first time I was in Rwanda and had wanted to go inside. But there had been no one there at the time and the church was locked up tight.
But this time it was Sunday and when we drove down into the driveway at the back of the building there were a few best-dressed children and adults in the courtyard, along with some poor and destitute. There was loud singing coming from inside the church and so I hurriedly walked around to the front and saw that the doors were wide open and hundreds of people were seated listening to the choir.
I was irresistably drawn to go inside and slid stealthily up against the back wall to be as unobtrusive as possible. While I stood there I tried to envision what it was like here thirteen years ago and for the first time in Rwanda I began crying. The tears rained down my cheeks and I was having an impossible time trying to stop them. Finally I got control of my emotions and, before the singing ended, I extricated myself from the scene.
Kevin and Oliver were outside the door and snapped a photo when I came out. I didn't tell them I'd been crying, feeling needlessly embarassed. There's nothing wrong with crying, it's actually good for the soul sometimes.
After leaving St Famille we drove to Gisozi hill where the Kigali Memorial Center is located.
I had been there before and so took on the role of tour guide as we walked through the grounds. I explained to Kevin (Oliver already knew) that this is the symbolic national memorial to the genocide, and there are 250,000 (that's a quarter of a million) bodies buried here, most of them killed in Kigali. People from all over the world, when visiting Rwanda, come and pay homage at this memorial site.
Each of the huge concrete crypts contain dozens of coffins, and each of the coffins contain the bones of dozens of dead. There had been a recent ceremony, with perhaps more coffins added, because the lid was still ajar, and there were fresh flowers all around.
In the eleven months since I'd been here last, vast changes have occurred. The gardens are much more developed with almost a labyrinth feel about them. While Kevin and Oliver went inside for a tour of the rooms and wall displays, I stayed outside in the beautiful gardens.
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